Free Press Journal

US law enforcement official faces flak over racist remarks on Sikh attorney general Gurbir Grewal


New York: Authorities in New Jersey have called for the resignation of a senior law enforcement official after a secret recording surfaced in which he allegedly made racist remarks about America’s first Sikh-American Attorney General Gurbir Grewal over his turban.

Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino allegedly made multiple controversial remarks in a Janaury 16 conversation that took place after Phil Murphy was inaugurated as governor of New Jersey, the recordings of which were obtained by WNYC.

In the audio, Saudino is heard saying that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy appointed Grewal because of “the turban”.”He didn’t do that because of Bergen County; he did that because of the turban,” Saudino said of Murphy’s selection of Grewal, who at the time was the Bergen County prosecutor.

Grewal tweeted that he had listened to the recording. “If that’s in fact Sheriff Saudino’s voice, then he should resign immediately,” Grewal said. Grewal further tweeted that he has “got thick skin and I’ve been called far worse. But the comments about the African-American community are wrong, racist, and hurtful. The comments about our Lieutenant Governor are inappropriate and homophobic. New Jersey and Bergen County deserve better.”

In July this year, Grewal was racially targeted by two radio hosts who repeatedly called him the “turban man” on air. Murphy is also called for the resignation of Saudino following the emergence of the secret recording. In the available audio, Saudino, using expletives, says: “. let the blacks come in.smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don’t worry about it. You know, we’ll tie the hands of cops…” On Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, he is heard asking if she is gay “Because she’s never been married.”

WNYC said in a report that the conversation was recorded on Januray 16, following Murphy’s gubernatorial inauguration, which Saudino attended. The report quoted Murphy as saying that “without question, the comments made on that recording are appalling, and anyone using racist, homophobic, and hateful language is unfit for public office.” He added that if indeed that is Saudino’s voice on the recording, “he must resign.” A report in said Saudino offered his “sincere apology” to the people of Bergen County for the “insensitive recorded remarks” made public.

In a statement issued by the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office Director of Communications, he said. “In an effort to repair the damage to the friendships that I have built with these communities I have reached out directly to several respected leaders in the communities I have offended and I have personally offered my apologizes and I have asked for their forgiveness and for their communities’ forgiveness.”

Not commenting about the calls for his resignation, he said the remarks made by him “are not representative of the person that I am and they are in no way consistent with the manner in which I have conducted my life personally and as a law enforcement professional with over 46 years of service to the residents of Bergen County.” Sikh advocacy group Sikh Coalition condemned Saudino’s comments, demanding that Saudino immediately apologize and resign from his position.

“Tone at the top matters and we must hold our public officials accountable for this despicable bigotry. Law enforcement needs to provide trainings in order to restore trust and demonstrate that hate will not be tolerated,” Sikh Coalition Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager Sim Singh said.

The Sikh Coalition also called for cultural awareness and anti-bias trainings for all staff employed by the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office on behalf of the communities impacted by Saudino’s remarks. The group said that the remarks by Saudino joins the line of racist moments that Grewal has experienced throughout his life.

In July 2018, two New Jersey radio hosts faced severe backlash and criticism after they made disrespectful remarks about the Attorney General. Since becoming the first Sikh state Attorney General in the United States, AG Grewal is regularly subjected to death threats, the group added.

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